The New Poll that Tells Us What Indiana Voters Care About

Republican candidate Mike Braun speaks during a Senate campaign debate in Westville, Ind., October 8, 2018. (Darron Cummings/Reuters)
GOP challenger Mike Braun pulls ahead of Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly.

Over the weekend, CBS News/YouGov released in-depth results from an Indiana Senate race survey — and the data give a slight advantage to Republican challenger Mike Braun.

The longtime businessman is running against one-term Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly, who over the past month has appeared to be running out of steam just as the Republican picks up momentum. The three most recent polls have shown Braun with a lead, including this latest survey from CBS/YouGov, which puts him ahead of the Democrat 46–43 percent, with 3 percent of Hoosiers saying they support Libertarian Lucy Brenton and 8 percent remaining undecided.

Braun had a four-point edge in an internal poll that his campaign released last week and another three-point lead in an IndyPolitics.org poll from October 23, which showed him leading Donnelly 47–44 percent.

Because Indiana has a state law forbidding pollsters from robocalling or even autodialing voters, surveys of the race have been fairly scarce. The data from CBS/YouGov are the most specific of any poll in the state thus far, and they offer some key insight into where the race stands one week from Election Day.

The results were drawn from 975 respondents, who were selected from online panels to represent likely Indiana voters in age, race, gender, and education. A vast majority of respondents (85 percent) said they’ve been paying either a great deal or a fair amount of attention to the 2018 midterms. Sixty-three percent said they definitely will vote, 18 percent said they probably will vote, and 19 percent had already voted.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the detailed survey results and how they might affect the outcome in Indiana on November 6:

How Support Breaks Down Demographically

Because Indiana is a predominantly white state, 90 percent of respondents surveyed were white, and they were split nearly evenly between male (49 percent) and female (51 percent). Nearly four out of ten respondents identified as born-again or Evangelical Christians.

Donnelly leads among female voters, who prefer him over Braun 47–42 percent, but among men Braun has a larger advantage, leading Donnelly 49–40 percent. Young voters picked Donnelly at a much higher rate: Nearly half of them said they support the Democrat, while just 35 percent supported Braun. Fourteen percent of likely voters age 18–29 said they remain undecided.

White voters split for Braun 50-39 percent, while an overwhelming 84 percent of black voters said they support Donnelly. According to the most recent census data, African Americans make up less than 10 percent of Indiana’s population, so in order for Donnelly to capitalize on their support, he’ll need higher-than-average turnout among the state’s black voters in the northwest part of the state, in liberal cities such as Gary and South Bend.

President Trump Might Not Be a Huge Factor

A plurality of Indiana voters (42 percent) indicated that they consider their vote in the Senate race to be in support of President Trump, one-third said they’ll vote in opposition to Trump, and one-quarter said their vote won’t be about Trump at all.

Forty-two percent of female respondents said they’ll vote in favor of Trump, compared with 34 percent who said their vote will be in opposition to him. Twenty-one percent of Democrats said their vote won’t be about the president at all, compared with 19 percent of Republicans who said the same.

Perhaps most interesting, two-thirds of Donnelly supporters said they want their senator to prioritize what Hoosiers want, whether or not Trump agrees, and only one-third want their senator to make “stopping President Trump” a priority whether or not Hoosiers agree. Braun supporters break down a little differently: Fifty-seven percent want their senator to prioritize what Hoosiers want regardless of Trump, and 43 percent want their senator to make working with Trump a priority.

A plurality of respondents (36 percent) said they dislike much or all of what Trump says and does. About a quarter of voters like all or most of what the president says and does, 28 percent like some of what Trump says and does and said they’re willing to tolerate the things they don’t like for now, and 11 percent said they can’t tolerate the things they don’t like right now. A plurality of women (40 percent) said they dislike much or all of what the president says and does.

Since Trump won Indiana by double digits, Braun certainly began the race with an advantage — as both a Republican and a businessman able to present himself as similar to the president. Given that so few Donnelly voters appear to be hard-left “Resistance” Democrats, the supposed blue wave likely won’t help the incumbent Democrat all that much in Indiana.

The Trump Tariffs Should Help Braun

Much of Trump’s support in Indiana in the 2016 election came from rural voters, most of whom are farmers and many of whom were hopeful that Trump’s “America First” rhetoric would translate into trade deals that would help their profit margin.

According to the survey, 70 percent of voters said agriculture plays a major role in their local economy, and a plurality of all respondents have positive expectations about the long-term effects of the Trump administration’s tariffs. Nearly half of voters believe the new tariffs will lead to better trade deals after about a year, 39 percent think worse trade deals will result, and 15 percent said the tariffs won’t affect trade deals at all.

Among independents, 46 percent expect better trade deals, and 42 percent expect trade deals to worsen. Meanwhile, among self-identified moderates (as opposed to liberals or conservatives), only 37 percent expect better deals, and 45 percent expect trade deals to worsen. Seventy-three percent of conservative voters said they think better trade deals will stem from the tariffs, compared with only 15 percent of liberals who said the same. Sixty-eight percent of liberal respondents said they expect worse trade deals after Trump’s tariffs.

Some analysts have claimed that the negative effects of China’s retaliatory tariffs on farmers would dissuade reliably conservative rural voters from supporting Republicans in the midterms, but these data suggest otherwise. What’s more, Braun seems to have struck the right balance on the issue. In September, he told National Review that Trump’s tariffs were tactically necessary to begin negotiations with other trading nations, especially China. He believes the policy was initially helpful to Indiana farmers because it told the Chinese that the U.S. government was no longer operating with a “business as usual” mindset on trade.

At the same time, Braun acknowledged that Indiana’s farmers have been “collateral damage” in the escalating trade war, and he suggested that, if elected, his first priority would be working with the president to find a more permanent solution that doesn’t hurt Hoosiers long-term. If he’s been effective at sharing that message on the campaign trail, and if voters believe him, this issue should break in his favor.

There’s Almost No ‘Enthusiasm Gap’ between Parties

A little more than half of all respondents said they’re very enthusiastic about voting in November, while 37 percent are somewhat enthusiastic, and 12 percent are not very enthusiastic. The numbers remain fairly consistent between the two political parties and across ideological lines.

Eighty-nine percent of both Democrats and Republicans said they are either very or somewhat enthusiastic about voting in November. Among self-identified liberals, 88 percent are very or somewhat enthusiastic compared with 89 percent of conservatives who said the same.

Interestingly, men tended to be more enthusiastic than women. Fifty-eight percent of male voters said they were very enthusiastic about voting compared with just 43 percent of women. Meanwhile, only 34 percent of voters ages 18–29 said they were very enthusiastic, and more than half said they were just somewhat enthusiastic. Respondents over the age of 65 were most excited: Ninety-one percent said they were either very or somewhat enthusiastic about voting.

Meanwhile, Donnelly and Braun maintain comparable favorability ratings among likely voters. The Democratic senator’s positive and negative favorability ratings are evenly split at 35 percent each, and 29 percent said they had neither a favorable nor an unfavorable view of him. Braun is seen positively by 35 percent of voters, negatively by 34 percent, and neutrally by 31 percent.

The fact that Donnelly and Braun have similar ratings might be somewhat surprising at first glance. The Democrat, after all, has been in Congress for over decade, half of the time as one of Indiana’s two senators, so it’s striking that nearly a third of Hoosiers have no strong opinion about him. Braun, on the other hand, has almost no political experience, serving for just a few years in Indiana’s General Assembly, representing his hometown of Jasper, in the state’s southwest quadrant.

The similar splits are likely explained in large part by Donnelly’s effort to keep a low profile, as a Democrat representing a red state who has clearly tried to avoid angering conservative or moderate voters. Though he voted against the tax cuts and the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, he voted for the 20-week abortion ban and in favor of Neil Gorsuch, for example. For his efforts, he was recently deemed the Democratic party’s least effective senator.

With a week to go until the election, Braun hasn’t decisively pulled away, but especially based on these new data, the general climate in Indiana seems to favor the Republican, and Donnelly’s lackluster tenure in the Senate probably won’t be enough to save him.


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